Fifteen years ago, there were about 200 members of Napa Valley Vintners (the trade group for area wineries), but that number has more than doubled. With roughly 3.5 million visitors descending on the valley last year, entertainment and activities have become key for businesses and wineries. Whether you’re touring by train or packing a picnic and two-wheeling it on the recently inaugurated Napa Valley Vine Trail, a 12.5-mile paved bike path connecting downtown Napa to food-centric Yountville (the first phase of a proposed 47-mile path), a visit here is no longer only about the wine. Rather, it’s as much about the experience surrounding the wine.
“You can only do so much in the bottle or with a label,” says Michael Polenske, founder of Blackbird Vineyards, which opened its flagship tasting room, RiverHouse by Bespoke Collection, last September on Napa’s pedestrian-friendly river walk. Visitors can taste Blackbird’s full portfolio on a shaded riverfront patio or in semiprivate and private rooms decked out in handpicked European antiques, books, and local artwork – as well as museum-quality pieces from the likes of Andy Warhol.
Nearby, the immaculate, upscale Kenzo restaurant opened recently on Pearl Street. It’s a sophisticated ambassador for Kenzo Estate wines, which are served alongside a traditional Japanese kaiseki-style menu of artfully prepared small dishes presented in painted bowls and lacquered boxes. The winery produces just 20,000 cases a year, nearly 80 percent of which are shipped to Japan. Outside of its new restaurant, one of the only spots you’ll find Kenzo wine in the U.S. is at its vineyard’s appointment-only tasting room, set on 3,800 lake-speckled acres 15 minutes east of downtown.
A short stroll across the river, the Napa Valley Wine Train has chugged visitors up and down the valley since opening in 1989. This summer, its popular Quattro Vino tour will expand into four different trips that take wine lovers to wineries such as Domaine Chandon, Charles Krug, and Robert Mondavi, with chef-prepared four-course meals on board between whistle stops. The train depot’s by-appointment tasting room, also new this summer, will rotate wines from around the region, including Opus One, created by Mondavi in partnership with Château Mouton Rothschild.